MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

June 12, 2011

Cherokee Nation voters face many decisions

— Members of the Cherokee Nation have a choice of candidates for principal chief and deputy principal chief with diverse viewpoints.

The general election is June 25.

Principal Chief Chad Smith said the Cherokee Nation faces an ongoing challenge in developing leadership. He wants to continue facing those challenges, he said.

“We’re doing good work, and I want to continue that,” Smith said. “During the past 10 years, I’ve been able to create 5,000 jobs. In the next four years I want to create 2,000 jobs. During the past 10 years we’ve gone from $18 million in health care expenditures to over $300 million.”

Smith said that during his time in office, the nation has established legal procurement systems, set a long-term vision, and established a very good credit rating. Smith said it’s critical to both create jobs and prepare people for them.

“Once a person has a meaningful occupation, a lot other things will take care of themselves,” he said. “We’ve provided about 24,000 college scholarships in the last 10 years. We want to better align our education systems with the economy we’re building.”

His opponent, Bill John Baker, said health care seems to be the item on most people’s minds.

“We’ve made progress, but we can do so much better,” Baker said. “If we would take the money from building one hotel tower that maybe created 40 Cherokee jobs, we could have paid off the Muskogee clinic and the Vinita clinic.”

Baker said he decided to run for the nation’s top office so he could advocate for Cherokee people.

“When I’m elected, on day one I’ll sell the $2 million dollar airplane that the chief had the casinos buy for his comfort and ease of travel,” he said. “I’ll stand in line at Southwest Airlines like everybody else.”

Baker said the most critical problem facing the nation is that it stopped a home building program that provided income for schools.

“I’ve been in business for 40 years,” he said. “I know that we can make our money go farther. I care about the people and have a heart.”

In the race for deputy principal chief, four candidates offer very different perspectives.

S. Joe Crittenden said the Cherokee Nation is focusing too much on “nicer, fancier casinos.”

“But I think today the needs of the people are health, housing and schools,” Crittenden said. “Not everyone wants a job in a casino.

Crittenden said he has worked for the Cherokee Nation since 1960. He has worked consecutively for a long succession of chiefs.

“There are people whose needs are not being met,” he said. “They are being left behind. We need to get out there and begin to focus on what they need. We’re supposed to be stewards of the people. We need to get focused on caring for the people. I want to be part of that teamwork.”

Crittenden said he hopes to become a bridge between the Cherokee people and the tribal council.

“I’ll have an open-door policy, and address their needs, and be available in the community,” he said. “We need transparency and open government.”

Callie Hathcoat said that when she is out in the community, the major things people talk about are health care and employment.

“Those are the two major things I’ve heard from every county that I’ve gone to,” Hathcoat said.

Hathcoat points to her deep local roots as one reason she decided to run for office.

“I was raised here in Cherokee County,” she said. “I have been a professional in this community for 35-plus years. I feel that at this time there needs to be a change in leadership for the Cherokee citizens to continue to move forward. I would like to be a part of the new administration so that our people can prosper in all their endeavors.”

Hathcoat said more of the profits from casinos should be used to fund health care, including mental health and substance abuse programs.

“That’s not to say the Cherokee Nation has not made great progress,” she said. “But in the outlying areas I don’t think that they’re getting the continuum of care that they need.”

Candidate Chris Soap said the Cherokee Nation needs to prioritize where it invests its money.

“We’ve got be able to know where we can get funding and then establish what levels we fund our programs,” he said.

Soap said he put a lot of thought into the decision to run for office.

“People had asked me if I would consider this,” he said. “I talked to Joe Grayson (outgoing deputy principal chief) and would like to follow his good example. My stepmother was Wilma Mankiller (former principal chief), so I’ve been around politics a long time.”

Soap said he doesn’t anticipate having to change many procedures when in office.

He also emphasized that he believes there are opportunities to train young people and help them achieve college degrees.

Raymond Vann said, if elected deputy chief, he would like to see specific problems addressed. Housing, health care for the elderly and community services are the major challenges facing the Cherokee Nation, he said.

“The other thing is we need jobs in the community,” Vann said. “That will keep our language alive if we can do that. We’re losing our communities and that takes away from our language and our lifestyle.”

Vann said he has worked in the community as an advocate for Cherokees for the last 15 years.

“I’m seeing the waste of money, and that it’s not benefiting our people,” he said. “We have people still on dirt floors, no water, no septic tank, and that’s not very good.

Reach Keith Purtell at (918) 684-2925 or kpurtell@muskogeephoenix.com.

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